St. Louis is caught in a debate over how to help the city’s homeless. The New Life Evangelistic Center is in danger of shutting down after nearly 40 years, as developers, business people and city officials blame it for problems in the neighborhood.
The center, which is led by the Rev. Larry Rice, takes in up to 300 people a night, but its critics want that number down to 32 by May.
“Rich folks moved into the neighborhood, and they considered the homeless a nuisance because they don’t want them around,” Rice told The New York Times.
St. Louis spends about $11 million a year, mostly in federal money, on housing-first programs aimed at the transition to permanent housing. The center’s opposition claims that it fosters a cycle that may feed and shelter the homeless but ultimately puts them back on the streets.
According to the Times, officials estimate that there are more than 1,300 homeless people in St. Louis, and nearly half of them rely on emergency shelters like Rice’s center.
Mayor Francis G. Slay plans to add about 225 emergency shelter beds by April by contracting with local service providers. The city had at least 558 such beds last year.
Under the plan, which will cost about $1 million a year, the shelters will also try to connect people who walk in off the street with services and help them find permanent housing. City leaders hope their plan will alleviate the problem of people being unable to find shelter space, even if Mr. Rice closes his shelter or reduces the number of people it accepts.
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.